In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Milwaukee County transit workers - bus drivers and mechanics - took direct action by going on a three day work stoppage. The work stoppage came after three months of working without a contract and their employer, Milwaukee Transit System (MTS), a private nonprofit company contracted to run the transit system, failing to negotiate a new contract with the union.
To complicate things, MTS cannot even strike a contract with their employees. The contract has to be approved by Milwaukee County
Executive Emperor Chris Abele, who has a large influence on what MTS can offer to their workers.
Like any conservative, anti-union acolyte of austerity would do, Abele is claiming that the union is being greedy and doesn't care about the taxpayers and that the county is broke, all in the effort to turn the public from the union:
In a time when State transportation funding has been flat and Federal funding has declined, ATU members rejected multiple contract compromises that increased overall compensation while allowing for the continuation of full transit services, stable fares, and respect for County taxpayers.
Throughout negotiations, the County has and will continue to remain focused on one outcome only – the best service for transit riders now and in the future. The emphasis is on providing a high quality transit system while modernizing and expanding services.
“From low income workers to Summerfest attendees, the ATU’s decision to strike has far reaching consequences for the people of Milwaukee County,” Abele said. “To be clear, the final added concessions today represent our last, best offer. Anything more than this is unsustainable in our County budget and would be irresponsible to the taxpayers we serve.”
In reality, compensation and benefits are only a small part of the problem. The unions have a number of other issues that Abele refuses to address. These issues include:
- Adequate time for bathroom breaks - Some routes allow only four minutes for the driver to stop the bus, find a business with a bathroom, use it, and get back on the road. Some drivers have taken to wearing diapers on the job because of the inadequate time allowed.
- Safety - Drivers have repeatedly been robbed, threatened and assaulted while driving their routes.
- Job security - Abele wants to hire hundreds of part time drivers so that he doesn't have to give them a pension or benefits. The union fears that this will lead to all part time driver and harm the pension fund since no one will be paying into it.
Abele has a couple, three other problems with his argument as well.
Abele is telling the public that the average driver is paid about $62,000 per year. What he fails to mention is that this number includes an average of eight hours of overtime per week. The actual salary for a driver is under $50,000 per year without the overtime - about the average income.
Abele's claim that the county cannot afford to do more is also utter bullshit.
Abele has refused to raise taxes since taking office, so he has not fully utilized funding streams that could not only support but also expand the transit system.
On top of that, in recent weeks, Abele has found enough money to:
- Sell a county owned building worth $10 million for $500,000
- Lease a county park for one dollar
- Give up $80 million - taken from the county's poorest citizens - to help build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks
- Sell 30 acres of county-owned land to the Bucks owners for one dollar
- Spend $100,000 for private security guards who normally serve Hollywood stars and a $50,000 chauffeur-driven SUV
If Abele can find enough money to benefit himself and his fellow millionaires, he can find enough to adequately compensate the bus drivers and mechanics.
If the gentle reader still had any doubt who is in the right in this, keep in mind that the unions have repeatedly offered to go to arbitration. Abele and MTS have refused every offer to do so. What are they afraid of other than they would be found to be unfair in their negotiations?
Call Chris Abele at 414-278-4211 or email him at CountyExec@milwaukeecountywi.gov and tell him to stop grandstanding for his millionaire buddies at the country club and to sit down at the negotiating table and respect the hard working men and women of the transit system.